AT&T has put its weight behind wireless access and attempted to steal a march on the corporate market in a new deal with Internet mobile office company GRIC.

From the fourth quarter of this year, people using its virtual private network (VPN) service will be able to gain secure access across the globe to their own company's network through GRIC's Wi-Fi points.

AT&T customers already have dial-up software that will allow them to connect directly to their company's network but the deal with GRIC will mean that thousands of its wireless access points dotted around the world will allow a fast, simple and secure connection.

Most of these new access points - 2,000 of them in 20 countries - are located in useful places for business travellers such as airports, hotels and convention centres. GRIC will supply the software to fit in with AT&T's dial-up system so its Wi-Fi points can be used and then make money from charging for access time.

AT&T signed a similar deal with Wayport at the start of the year and so its VPN service is becoming increasing attractive as its ubiquity increases.

The deal also gives GRIC a huge boost - its share price rocketed 60 per cent on the news - and makes it stronger in the market for wireless access, currently led by rival Boingo. This is also good news for wireless access providers in general, and a slap in the face for recent critics of Wi-Fi who have claimed the idea of widespread wireless networks is doomed to failure.

Recent tie-ups between wireless access providers that allow each others' customers to either network are also bringing the market together and making the creation of a single standard for secure connection and billing a more real possibility.

Last month, the fast 802.11g standard for data transmission over the airwaves was agreed and just last week, the Wi-Fi Alliance approved the first wireless equipment that fitted the standard.

Wi-Fi Alliance spokesman C. Brian Grimm told us it was now hoping to do the same for an authentication standard. "There are lots of organisations working on it - there is not a lack of people and not a lack of solutions," he said.

The issues are complicated and it is "not something that will be agreed in the next year", but one standard would give a boost to everyone in the wireless market. How the standard comes out though will depend on which way the market goes. "The people with the big footprints, with most presence, will of course have more of a say - that's just how these things work," Mr Grimm told us.

This deal then has given both AT&T and GRIC louder voices.